Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) continues to pour big money into political campaigns

Since its formation in 2006, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) has raised over $690,000 for its federal political action committee.  In addition to the federal DFER PAC, the organization has formed numerous political action committees at the state level including, DFER Colorado, DFER Colorado Small Donor Committee, DFER Connecticut PAC, DFER DC Independent Expenditure Committee, DFER DC PAC, DFER Illinois PAC, DFER Illinois Independent Expenditure Committee, DFER Massachusetts Independent Expenditure PAC, DFER New Jersey PAC, DFER Louisiana PAC, DFER New York PAC, and DFER Washington State PAC.

DFER is the political action committee front for the corporate education reform movement’s Education Reform Now, Inc. (ERN), a 501(c)(3) and Education Reform Now Advocacy, Inc. (ERNA), a 501(c)(4).

DFER uses Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now Advocacy as “Dark Money” groups to funnel millions of dollars into lobbying and political campaigns on behalf of the charter school industry.  In 2016, Education Reform Now Advocacy dumped nearly half a million dollars into the charter school industry’s failed effort to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. As a dark money group, ERN and ERNA refuse to disclose the names of their donors.

Funded by major Wall Street executives and the education reform foundations, DFER and its related entities lobby for charter schools, the Common Core testing scheme, teacher evaluations based on scores and school vouchers.  They are perhaps best known for their opposition to democratically elected boards of education.  Instead they push for mayoral controlled schools.

Whitney Tilson, a co-founder of DFER, “explained the hedge funders interest in education saying that “Hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital.”

As the Center for Media and Democracy noted, “The Board of Directors for Education Reform Now (ERN) consists almost entirely of Wall Streeters who made their fortunes through financial groups and hedge funds, such as Sessa Capital, Gotham Capital, Covey Capital, Charter Bridge Capital, Maverick Capital and others.”  Major donors to DFER, ERN and ERNA include corporate executives with Anchorage Capital Partners, Greenlight Capital, Pershing Square Capital Management, as well as a variety of other hedge funds.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is another donor to the charter school group.  It was Murdoch who famously stated, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone….”

As federal campaign finance reports reveal, the donor list to Democrats for Education Reform is a who’s who of the charter school industry including Charles Ledley, John Petry, Joel Greenblatt, Christopher Stavrou, David Einhorn, Katherine Bradley, Dan Loeb, Boykin Curry, James Mai, Brian Zied and many others.

Charles and Rebecca Ledley, a major force behind the charter school industry’s Question #2 campaign in Massachusetts, are the single largest contributors to the DFER Federal PAC, having donated at least $70,000 to the committee.

The primary beneficiaries of the corporate education reform group’s largesse include Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Corey Booker (D-NJ), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).  Another DFER favorite is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

More on DFER can be found at Wait, What? including; With money from Walmart’s Walton Foundation – They call themselves Democrats for Education Reform and Figures that the super-rich would turn privatization of public schools into a game and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) explains why Common Core testing is so important and Charter School Political Action Committees target Connecticut legislative races and DFER NEWS: Adam Goldfarb, former Chief of Staff to Governor Dannel Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, lands COO post at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)

 

Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education

First published on Washington D.C.’s The Hill Website, Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education;

To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.

Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.

But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used  to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

The most common form of public subsidy for “school choice” has been the rapid rise of the charter school industry. Today there are approximately 3 million students attending about 6,900 charter schools in the United States. Supporters of these publicly funded but privately owned and operated entities claim that their primary purpose is to provide parents with choices.

However, advocates for privatizing public education support a far broader array of school choice options, including funneling public money directly to private schools.

And in Donald Trump, DeVos and her allies have found someone who will champion the cause of shifting massive public resources away from the nation’s public schools to subsidize the country’s private and parochial schools.

During his presidential campaign Donald Trump proposed using $20 billion in federal money to allow parents to send their children to charter, private, or religious schools.

While Betsy DeVos’ confirmation process was much more controversial than Trump could have expected, his policy goals undoubtedly remain intact. In the coming weeks and months we’re likely see Trump’s new Secretary of Education propose a variety of programs and mechanisms to promote their agenda, including efforts to persuade states to dramatically expand support for charter schools and school voucher efforts.

As Fox Business News reported, DeVos told a group in 2015, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars. This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and options,”

Although critics point out, the nation’s public schools are already underfunded and vouchers and other privatization programs further undermine the ability of public schools to provide students with the comprehensive educational opportunities they need and deserve, the Trump administration is likely to “go all in” with the effort to redirect public resources to privately owned and operated school settings.

These privatization efforts will probably include education savings accounts and school vouchers, either paid for directly with tax dollars or funded through a system of tax credits.

Under an Education Savings Account program, parents who withdraw their children from public school are given stipends that are deposited into government-authorized savings accounts.

Parents can then use those funds to pay for private school tuition and fees. Alternatively, parents are given a School Voucher that they can then use to direct public funds to a selected private or parochial school. In this case, the funds meant for paying for the child’s public school education follows that child to the private school.

According to the pro-privatization advocacy group, Ed Choice, about 400,000 children in 29 states attend schools with the help of vouchers.

In many of the existing situations, school vouchers are limited to families with lower incomes and schools that accept vouchers must meet a series of mandatory academic standards.

To fund their voucher system, Trump and DeVos may look to have the program funded out of federal dollars or they may seek to utilize tax-credit to fund the vouchers. Tax-credit vouchers, also called, scholarships, allow taxpayers, often businesses, to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.

While a school voucher proposal is likely, critics say that DeVos’ voucher plan would exacerbate educational inequality, that “voucher programs do not work to improve student achievement”, and “voucher programs and charter school expansion drain both money and social capital from the traditional public schools, creating even more of an imbalanced, two-tiered system.”

The problem is that undermining the nation’s public education system is exactly what Trump and DeVos are trying to do.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/318948-beware-of-trump-and-devos-grand-plan-to-privatize-public

Charter schools pose financial risk to municipalities by James Mulholland

The charter school industry is proposing a change to Connecticut’s school funding system to require that local communities hand over local funds to subsidize charter schools attended by local students.  The “money follows the child” funding system leaves local public schools without the resources necessary to ensure children have access to a comprehensive education.  In this piece, first published in the CT Mirror, educator and education advocate James Mulholland examines this latest money grab by the charter schools.

Mulholland writes;

In  December of last year, the Connecticut Department of Education issued a request for proposals for new charter schools – the first time in nearly three years.  As the state grapples with a budget disaster and Gov. Dannel Malloy continues to propose changes that would dramatically change the way Connecticut pays for education, the state should refrain from opening any new charter schools and freeze the funding of existing ones.

Moody’s credit rating service has warned of the fiscal risks to municipalities posed by charter schools.  In its 2013 report, Charter Schools Pose Growing Risk for Urban Public Schools, Moody’s concluded that a rise in charter school enrollment, “is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas.”

According to Michael D’Arcy, one of two authors of the report, “A small but growing number of traditional public districts face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters.”

As urban areas such as Hartford teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, lowered bond ratings could have a devastating effect on already dire budgetary circumstances.  Gov. Malloy is proposing a new municipal accountability system for cities and towns facing severe fiscal difficulties.  The proposal includes a multi-tiered ranking system for communities that could lead to greater state oversight of local budgets and limit annual property tax increases for the cities and towns deemed most at risk.

Under the proposal, a municipality could be assigned to one of the first three tiers if it has a poor fund balance or credit rating.  Bridgeport and Stamford have resisted the state’s efforts to open charter schools in their cities.  In 2015, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the application of the Stamford Charter School for Excellence despite the fact that the Stamford Board of Education voted 7-1 to urge the state to deny the application.  The state of Connecticut may very well force cities to accept a charter school that may adversely affect its credit rating in the future.

Moody’s recently reiterated its belief about the adverse effects of charter schools this past November when Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected legislation that would have increased the state’s cap on charter schools.  Moody’s warned Boston and three other Massachusetts cities that passage of a ballot measure to expand charter schools could weaken their financial standing and ultimately threaten their bond ratings.

Nicholas Lehman, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, warned that passage of the referendum would be a “credit negative” for the cities.  Moody’s responded to Massachusetts voters’ rejection of the plan with a “credit positive” and reiterated that the history of charter schools shows they drain money from city education budgets.

Connecticut currently provides funding in excess of $100 million per year to operate 24 charter schools, 10 of which are managed by six management companies.  These companies charge a management fee of approximately 10 percent of the amount they receive from the state.

“If we saw fees of 10 percent or less, that would be reasonable,” says Robert Kelly, who oversees charter schools at the education department.  In part, these fees are used to duplicate administrative services such as payroll and human resources, which are already provided by the districts in which charter schools operate.  It seems particularly wasteful at a time when the state is looking to regionalize municipal services.

While cities and towns have seen their education funding slashed, Connecticut’s charter management companies have seen their coffers overflow. Last year, the State Board of Education increased charter school enrollment by 4 percent for the current school year. While the enrollment increase cost the state an additional $4.1 million, funding for traditional public schools was cut by $51.7 million and regional magnet schools, opened to help desegregate city schools, had budget cuts totaling $15.4 million

The diversion of millions of dollars from traditional public schools is one reason the New England Conference of the NAACP and the Massachusetts Lawyer’s Committee filed a motion against the effort to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.  It was the belief of Juan Cofield, president of the New England Conference of the NAACP, that “setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students.”

Connecticut should not continue to pursue charter schools as a means to meet the educational needs of its children.  The financial risk to our cities and towns is just too great.

You can read and comment on the original piece at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/02/13/opinion-james-mulholland-2/

Malloy’s disastrous education proposal includes more money for charter schools

While it remains unclear whether Governor Dannel Malloy’s new education funding scheme includes a “money follows the child formula” that would force local districts to use local tax dollars to subsidize the privately owned and operated charter schools in their communities, the Governor’s budget does shovel even more state taxpayer funds to the charter school industry.

In addition to providing more than $111 million a year to Connecticut’s charter schools, Malloy’s plan adds $11 million in state funds so that charter schools can expand enrollment and $10 million more to increase the per pupil amount charter schools collect from the state.

Malloy, like newly sworn-in Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has been a consistent supporter of efforts to privatize public education by turning over scarce public resources to charter schools despite the fact that these schools discriminate against Latino students, students who need help learning the English language and students who require special education services.

With 137 of Connecticut’s school districts would be losing education aid under Malloy’s new funding proposal, and all towns would take a massive hit due to his effort to shift $400 million of teacher pension payments directly onto local taxpayers, it is especially galling to see Malloy’s plan pump’s even more money into the charter school industry.

Check back for more about the new funding formula as it becomes available

“‘Toxic’ Steve Perry should embarrass charter supporters”

Oklahoma educator and education advocate Dr. John Thompson is an award-winning historian and inner-city teacher. He is the author of A Teacher’s Tale: Learning, Loving and Listening to Our Kids.  He recently attended a speech given by charter school owner Steve Perry and wrote about his observations for the website, Nondoc.

Thompson wrote;

Although I’d mostly come to hear perspectives from charter supporters in the crowd, I found myself instead listening, horrified, as keynote speaker Steve Perry, a former charter school principal-turned-showman from Connecticut, shouted non-stop insults during his entire keynote address.

Thompson added;

Perry has a reputation for failing to respect the regulatory rules of the road and is remembered for calling unions “roaches” in 2013. Worse, his charter school, Capital Preparatory Magnet School, would sentence “even the youngest students in the building” to sit at what was known as the Table of Shame as a form of punishment. His current gig is running Sean “P-Diddy” Combs’ 160-student charter, a Harlem magnet school that recruits suburban students.

[…]

At Thursday’s summit, Perry told the audience that charter supporters shouldn’t even talk with people who disagree with them. He also claimed opponents of Oklahoma City’s KIPP expansion are racists. In fact, he said people like me — who display pro-Barack Obama bumper stickers but oppose charter and voucher expansions — are as bad as the worst racists in American history. Perry went on to say that public schools were “designed” to fail in order to maintain Jim Crow and drive the school-to-prison pipeline.

[…]

Perry said virtually nothing about real-world schools. Instead, he shouted memes that were often incomprehensible. He kept likening charters to the consciousness-expanding “red pill” in The Matrix while calling for an all-out assault on public schools and public school educators who were irredeemable because they had taken the “blue pill” of complacent resignation.

Thompson concluded;

I don’t know if local charter leaders were fully aware of whom they were hiring to articulate their message in Oklahoma City. I do hope, however, that they are embarrassed by his toxic speech.

Local charter leaders should distance themselves from Steve Perry and apologize to teachers for his outrageous behavior.

His piece is a “Must Read” on the antics of Steve Perry and those seeking to destroy public education in the United States.  You can find and comment on his piece at:  https://nondoc.com/2017/01/31/steve-perry-charter-supporters/

Massachusetts said NO to more charter schools, Connecticut should as well

At the same time that Governor Dannel Malloy is instituting the deepest cuts in Connecticut history to Connecticut’s public schools he is diverting more than $110 million dollars a year in taxpayer funds to Connecticut’s privately owned and operated charter schools.

Malloy and his operatives now want to expand this outrageous money grab with a plan to increase the number of charter schools in Connecticut and implement a new funding proposal that would see an additional $40-$50 million a year diverted to the private corporations that own Connecticut’s existing charter schools.

Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials should take a deep pause and look to Massachusetts for an indication of what happens when a state adopts this so-called “money follows the child” funding system.

Last November the charter school industry in the Bay State tried to push through a state-wide ballot initiative that would have allowed more charter schools to be opened in the Commonwealth.

To fund their effort the charter school industry pumped more than $24 million dollars into their political campaign.

The cash came from large corporate education reform “dark money” groups that refuse to release the names of their donors, wealthy hedge fund owners, Massachusetts corporations and out-of-state contributors including the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  (See Wait, What? post Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts).

But in this case, the massive outpouring of money couldn’t buy the outcome of the election as parents, educators and taxpayers successfully pushed back against those who seek to privatize public education in the United States.  On Election Day, 62 percent of voters cast their ballots against the measure and only 38 percent in favor of the provision.

Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Assocation, summed up the significant victory saying;

 “It’s really clear from the results of this election that people are interested in public education and value that.”

Madeloni added,

“There should be no conversation about expanding charters until the Legislature fully fund our public schools.”

Media coverage of the Massachusetts ballot initiative explained the outcome noting,

“The opposition could not match the “Yes on 2” campaign on television advertisement spending. But the “no” camp had the support of prominent Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. And it mobilized a sprawling field operation, with hundreds of teachers and liberal activists reaching an estimated 1.5 million voters statewide over the course of the campaign.”

In Massachusetts, voters realized that the charter schools were diverting scarce taxpayer funds away from local public school because Massachusetts already utilizes what is called a “money follows the child” school funding formula.  This funding system means that,

“When students leave traditional public schools for charters, they take thousands of dollars in state aid with them. And opponents focused heavily on this financial strain, raising the specter of cuts to arts education, transportation, and other services at the schools that serve the vast majority of students.”

Connecticut’s charter school advocacy groups have recently proposed just such a system for Connecticut and it is very likely that Malloy, an advocate of privatizing public education, will adopt their proposal as his own when he issues his proposed state budget next week.   See the Wait, What? Post of January 26, 2017 entitled Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme.

The question now is whether the state legislature will do Malloy’s bidding or actually step forward and do what is best for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

Stay tuned!

The dangerous rise of privatization and corporate education reform

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform movement are making unprecedented gains in their effort to privatize public education in the United States.

With Betsy DeVos on the verge of becoming the United States Secretary of Education and President Donald Trump promising to divert $20 billion in federal funding from public schools to privatization through school choice programs, the movement to undermine public education must be deliriously excited about their prospects over the next four years.

Of course, the proponents of corporate education reform have been riding high for more than two decades thanks to the policies and politics of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom used their time in office to promote charter schools and the broader corporate reform agenda.

Although the corporate reform movement has made unprecedented gains in the last twenty years, its roots go back more than sixty years to Milton Friedman’s essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” which laid out the call for privatizing public education in the United States.

Friedman argued that the nation needed to scrap its historic commitment to local public schools and replace these hallowed institutions with a system in which parents could use public funds to send their children to “private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools or even ‘government schools,’” a derogatory term corporate education reformers use to describe local public schools.

For decades, Friedman’s proposal was relegated to academic debates about the potential advantages and pitfalls associated with privatization.

However, the situation started to change when the state of Wisconsin enacted the first large-scale school voucher program in 1989 and Minnesota adopted legislation allowing for the creation of charter schools in 1991.

Today, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws paving the way for charter schools and the number of charter schools in the country has reached about 6,900, enrolling a total of almost 3 million students.

And corporate education reformers claim that they have only begun their effort to privatize the country’s public schools.

So what are the fundamental elements of corporate education reform?

Educator and journalist Stan Karp, who works for the Education Law Center and serves as an editor of the  Rethinking Schools magazine, addressed this issue in a stark and direct way more than six years ago in a presentation that was reprinted in the Washington Post.

Stan Karp wrote;

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

  • Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education
  • Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights
  • An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees
  • Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters
  • Replacing  governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management
  • Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition
  • Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff
  • Implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:

Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under No Child Left Behind, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable and less expensive professional staff.  Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), test-based sanctions are increasingly targeted at teachers.

A larger corporate reform goal, in addition to changing the way schools and classrooms function, is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining and teacher unions and in the permanent crisis of school funding across the country.  These policies undermine public education and facilitate its replacement by a market-based system that would do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and employment: produce fabulous profits and opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many….

Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. They’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world.  Few people understand how either really works.  Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals.  And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge.  Yet these deeply flawed tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison.

Let’s look for a minute at what corporate reformers have actually achieved when it comes to addressing the real problems of public education:

First, they over-reached and chose the wrong target.  They didn’t go after funding inequity, poverty, reform faddism, consultant profiteering, massive teacher turnover, politicized bureaucratic management, or the overuse and misuse of testing.

Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority.  And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public schools.

Look again at the proposals the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation.

 If every one of these policies were fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college.

 There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time.  The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during periods when concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration, or during economic growth for the black middle class and other communities, or where significant new investments in school funding have occurred.

Or take the issue of poverty.  Most teachers agree that poverty is no excuse for lousy schooling; much of our work is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms.  But in the current reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.

Corporate reform plans being put forward do nothing to reduce the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education.  Instead, educational inequality has become the entry point for disruptive reform that increases instability throughout the system and creates new forms of collateral damage in our most vulnerable communities.

The “disruptive reform” that corporate reformers claim is necessary to shake up the status quo is increasing pressure on 5,000 schools serving the poorest communities at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and budget cutting.  The latest waiver bailout for NCLB announced recently by Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan would actually ratchet up that pressure. While it rolls back NCLB’s absurd adequate yearly progress system just as it was about to self-destruct, the new guidelines require states that apply for waivers to identify up to 15% of their schools with the lowest scores for unproven “turnaround” interventions, “charterization,” or closing.

Teachers and schools, who in many cases are day to day the strongest advocates and most stable support system struggling youth have, are instead being scapegoated for a society that is failing our children.  At the same time, corporate reformers are giving parents triggers to blow up the schools they have, but little say and no guarantees about what will replace them.

The only thing corporate ed reform policies have done successfully is bring the anti-labor politics of class warfare to public schools. By overreaching, demonizing teachers and unions, and sharply polarizing the education debate, corporate reform has undermined serious efforts to improve schools.  It’s narrowed the common ground and eroded the broad public support a universal system of public education needs to survive.

Since Karp’s assessment in 2011, we’ve seen the rise of the Common Core and its associated Common Core testing scheme, a system that is turning classrooms into little more than testing factories and profit centers for the testing industry.

And that is all before Trump and DeVos introduce their own brand of radical corporate education reform in the marketplace call American public education.

Connecticut – Beware the charter school industry’s proposed new school funding scheme

The charter school front groups, ConnCAN and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, with the help of the Connecticut School Finance Project, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) – the latter two groups which are funded through local school budgets and are supposed to be advocating for public schools – have proposed a set of principles for a new school funding formula for Connecticut that will undermine the state’s public school districts and drain local municipal budgets.

The new pro-charter school plan is based on the school funding formula in Rhode Island and it is a classic “Money Follows the Child” system that would mean that, in addition to collecting about $110 million a year from the State of Connecticut, the state’s privately owned and operated Charter Schools would grab an additional $40-$50 million a year in public funds from the local schools in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Hamden, Norwich and Manchester.

The operative language in the new charter school sponsored formula reads;

“A combination of state and local funds should be allocated to schools of choice on a per student basis, so that the total per-pupil funding for these students will go to the schools or districts of choice.”

This public money “follows the child” plan is particularly appalling and inappropriate because charter schools are not accountable to elected local board of education.  Local school districts have no say in whether charter schools are created, where they are located, which children they educate or refuse to educate, nor do local boards of education have control over any other charter school policy or practice.

The operative question is why should local taxpayers pay for a school that is utterly unaccountable to the local community?

In addition, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for discriminating against Latino students, students who require additional help learning the English language, children who need special education services and those who display disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, charter schools in Connecticut do not face the same costs as public schools since,  among other things, they refuse to allow educators to unionize and in most cases only half the teachers (or even fewer) have been certified under Connecticut’s strict teacher preparation programs.

The truth is that Connecticut charter schools also DO NOT pay for transporting students to or from their school nor do they pay for any special education costs associated with their students – those costs are already picked up by the local school districts.

Although pro-charter school Governor Malloy will undoubtedly use this plan as his proposed formula when he announces his school funding plan next month, the plan is bad for Connecticut’s students, parents, educators, public schools and taxpayers.

His efforts to privatize public education in Connecticut know no bounds and the charter school industry’s newest proposal is simply a stunning money grab from school districts that are already massively underfunded.

A cost study conducted in 2005 found that Connecticut was underfunding its schools by approximately $2 billion a year, leaving schools without the resources they need to close the achievement gap and help all students succeed.  A new cost study – which is sorely needed and which the school funding advocates (CCJEF) are calling for —one done to reflect current costs, taking into account all our new mandates and standards,  and current student demographics and need – will undoubtedly show a similar if not even larger gap in state funding.

This incredible pro-charter school funding proposal would make the situation even worse for Connecticut’s urban districts.

The plan is being put forward by:
CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE)
CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS)
CT Association of Schools (CAS)
CT Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
CT Council for Education Reform (CCER)

Finally, the reality that CABE and CAPSS are joining the charter school industry in promoting such a disastrous funding plan is a disturbing indictment of their failure to represent the citizens of Connecticut and a gross violation of their mission, purpose and nonprofit status.  Compounding their dereliction of duty is the fact that these two groups are part of the CCJEF coalition yet their scheme harms the very children, parents, public and schools and poorer towns and cities that CCJEF has been fighting so hard and so long to help.

For more about how charter schools are seeking to undermine Connecticut’s public schools read, Draining dollars from our students by Wendy Lecker

In her column, Wendy Lecker wrote;

Compounding the damage to public school funding, Malloy’s allies intend to “reform” Connecticut’s school funding formula to drain more public dollars from public schools — toward privately run charter schools.

As the Malloy administration recently acknowledged, district public schools are the vehicle the state chose to discharge its constitutional responsibility to educate children. Although the state must ensure adequate funding, in reality the state and municipalities share the financial burden. State education funding never covers the full cost of education. The state provides a portion and the local municipality fills in the rest, with the federal government contributing a small amount. When the state fails to pay its fair share, municipalities must to make up the gap.

Successful school funding reforms start with an analysis of what it costs to educate children. Once the cost is determined, states find they must increase school spending. Those increases have been proven to improve educational and life outcomes, especially for poor children.

To begin serious reform, Connecticut must assess what it costs today to bring an adequate education within the reach of all students.

However, Malloy’s charter allies do not want to discuss the cost of education. Their agenda is simply to get the legislature to include charter schools in any new school funding formula. Why? So local districts would be required to fund charters from local budgets.

State charter schools are considered independent districts. Local districts do not receive state allocations for students attending charter schools nor are they required pay the local contribution for children in charter schools. The host district has no say over the charter schools located within its borders. State law does require local school districts to pay for transportation and special education costs for children attending charter schools. Aside from that, charters are funded by state allocations, federal funds and private donations.

Charters are not funded like district public schools because they differ from public schools. They are statutorily created and can be discontinued anytime. They need not serve all grade levels nor provide the same services as public schools, and do not have to hire certified teachers. They are also exempt from other state mandates and accountability.

The charter lobby’s proposal would require local districts to pay for any costs for charters not covered by the state. Local taxpayers would now pay for charters like they pay for their own schools; without having any voice in charter schools and without charters following the same rules as public schools. As the state decides to expand charters, more local dollars will be drained from public schools toward these independent schools. In Rhode Island, where this system exists, districts lose tens of millions of dollars annually to charters.

Draining more money from impoverished school districts will not improve education for Connecticut’s neediest children. If our leaders are serious about school funding reform, they must start with assessing the true cost of providing every child with an adequate education. Only then can we have an honest discussion about how we can serve the educational needs of all our children.

Charter School Industry raised more than $24 million in 2016 record breaking defeat In Massachusetts

The final campaign finance reports have been submitted and the Charter School Industry raised and spent $24,476,132 in its losing effort to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

According to the Ballotopia website,

Question 2 would have authorized the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools per year.

Organizations in support of Question #2 in Massachusetts Total Raised
Yes on Two $710,100
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,570
Great Schools Massachusetts $21,198,748
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,002
TOTAL $25,624,360

An incredible 95 percent of the money that flowed into the Massachusetts charter school campaign came from out-of-state donors, with 84 percent of the total funds coming from New York based Families for Excellent Schools, a dark money charter school group that advocates in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

According to the official reports filed with the commonwealth of Massachusetts, a total of five political action committees engaged in the effort to fund the ballot proposition aimed at lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.  Together they reported raising a total of that $25,624,360, but that count reflects money funneled from one committee to another.  The actual amount raised was closer 24.5 million.

In addition to Families for Excellent schools, the list of corporate education reform donors included more than $1.8 million from Jim and Alice Walton of the Walmart fortune, $490,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from former Enron executive John Arnold.  Education Reform Now and a variety of other groups that refuse to release the names of their donors also contributed to the Massachusetts pro-charter school effort.

 

Major contributors to Question #2 Amount Donated
   
Families for Excellent Schools, (Advocacy) Inc. $20,803,679
Jim Walton $1,125,000
Strong Economy for Growth, Inc. $1,060,000
Alice Walton $710,000
Great Schools Massachusetts $501,000
Michael Bloomberg $490,000
Education Reform Now (Advocacy) $469,317
John Douglas Arnold $250,000
Edward Shapiro $250,000
Bradley Bloom $150,000
Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150,000
Ray Stata $125,000
Massachusetts Charter Public School Association $100,000
Paul Sagan $100,000
Charles Longfield $100,000
Cohasset VC LTD (TX) $100,000
Shari Redstone $100,000
Partners Healthcare $100,000
The Kraft Group $100,000
State Street Bank and Trust Co. $100,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc. $100,000
MassMutual Financial Group $50,000

Corporations donating to the anti-public education campaign included Partners Healthcare, The Kraft Group, State Street Bank and Trust, Co., Suffolk Cares and the MassMutual Financial Group.

The unprecedented effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts will go down as a stunning defeat for the charter school industry and the role of “dark” money in referendum politics.

The question was defeated with 62% voting against the measure and 38% voting in favor of lifting the cap and allowing more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Opponents of the measure included the Massachusetts Teachers Association, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and many local mayors, boards of education and teacher unions.

Proponents included the biggest corporate entities and individuals behind the corporate education reform movement including Families for Excellent Schools, Education Reform Now, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family and a who’s who list of donors from the charter school industry.

The official ballot summary from the State of Massachusetts read:

This proposed law would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.

Approvals under this law could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment each year. New charters and enrollment expansions approved under this law would be exempt from existing limits on the number of charter schools, the number of students enrolled in them, and the amount of local school districts’ spending allocated to them.

If the Board received more than 12 applications in a single year from qualified applicants, then the proposed law would require it to give priority to proposed charter schools or enrollment expansions in districts where student performance on statewide assessments is in the bottom 25% of all districts in the previous two years and where demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest.

New charter schools and enrollment expansions approved under this proposed law would be subject to the same approval standards as other charter schools, and to recruitment, retention, and multilingual outreach requirements that currently apply to some charter schools. Schools authorized under this law would be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the Board.

Opponents of Question #2 organized through a political action committee called Save our Public Schools which was made up of parents, teachers and unions, with most of the money coming from teacher unions.  Save our Public Schools ended up raising just over $15 million ($15,406,897) in opposition to lifting the cap on charter schools.

Add New Haven Charter Schools to those that discriminate against English Language Learners and Special Education students

As noted in the recent Wait, What? articles entitled, Hartford Charters fail to accept and educate Latinos and English Language Learners and  Bridgeport Charter Schools Discriminate Against Connecticut Children, the privately owned and operated, but publicly funded, charter schools located in Hartford and Bridgeport discriminate against Latino students, those who require assistance learning the English language and students who need special education services.

Data collected by the Connecticut State Department of Education further reveals that charter schools in New Haven are equally bad when it comes to accepting and educating their fair share of students who require these additional services.

Unlike true public schools that must accept every student that comes through the door, charter schools use a variety of underhanded and deceptive techniques to prevent a variety of needy students from enrolling in their schools, or once enrolled, use harsh disciplinary policies and other push-out strategies to rid their schools of what they perceive to be unwanted students.

The numbers are stark and disturbing.   The following chart highlights the level of discrimination in New Haven’s charter schools.

New Haven % English Language Learners % Special Education
New Haven Public Schools 14% 13%
Booker T Washington Charter 0% 0%
Common Ground Charter 0% 17%
Elm City Montessori Charter 0% 0%
Achievement First Inc. – Elm City Charter 5% 6%
Achievement First Inc. – Amistad Charter 11% 5%

The data further indicates that like charter schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, New Haven’s charter schools use what should be illegal tactics to push out certain students who might bring down their standardized test scores.

For example, Achievement First Inc. Amistad charter school in New Haven suspends English Language Learners at a rate 333% more than New Haven Public Schools, and

Achievement First Inc. Amistad suspends special education students 238% more than New Haven Public Schools

Under Connecticut law, local public schools must serve all the range of students that make up their community, but Charter Schools repeatedly fail when it comes to serving their fair share of students who require additional services.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s public schools go without the resources they need from the state, while Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly shovel more than $110 million a year to Connecticut’s charter school industry.